CDC Wants Schools, Businesses, Citizens to Prepare for Possible US Coronavirus Onslaught

February 26, 2020

The CDC is more pessimistic than the WHO about containing the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a more pessimistic view of just how disruptive the novel coronavirus COVID-19 can be than the World Health Organization (WHO). Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters yesterday that she expects the virus will soon begin to spread at the community level in the United States. 

“As we’ve seen from recent countries with community spread, when it has hit those countries, it has moved quite rapidly,” Messonnier said. “We want to make sure the American public is prepared.” The CDC wants people to take advantage of technology that allows remote interaction: businesses should consider expanding telecommuting options and hospitals should offer more telehealth services. 

The WHO, for its part, said that countries can stop broad transmission of COVID-19 illness if they act quickly and effectively enough. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, puts the emphasis on protecting healthcare workers and groups most vulnerable for the disease, such as the elderly. 

“For the moment, we’re not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus, and we’re not witnessing large-scale severe disease or deaths,” Ghebreyesus told told journalists Monday. “Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely it has. Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet.”

On the other hand, Messonnier said yesterday: “As more and more countries experience community spread, successful containment at our borders becomes harder and harder.” She added, ominously, that, “Disruption to everyday life might be severe.” 

She discussed the situation with her children recently. “While I didn’t think they were at risk right now, we as a family ought to be preparing for significant disruption to our lives,” Messonnier said. Other measures being considered by the CDC to stop the spread of COVID-19, according to Messonnier, would include voluntary home quarantines, cleaning surfaces, and school closures. 

The WHO’s take is notably more optimistic. Bruce Aylward, a senior WHO official, recently went to China to find out how China handled the outbreak and came back believing that the spread of COVID-19 can be dramatically curtailed, STAT reports. 

“The thing you’ve got to think is: If it hits us, we’re going to stop it,” said Aylward. “You have to think that way. I keep hearing, ‘Oh, if it hits us we just have to accept it and it’s going to spread.’ Why? You’ve lost before you’ve started.”